How to Write a Statement of Purpose That Stands Out
So, what is a statement of purpose? A statement of purpose (also called a letter of intent or a research statement) introduces your interests and experience to the admissions committee. For research-focused programs, like most PhDs and many master’s degrees, your statement of purpose will focus primarily on your past research experience and plans. For more professionally-focused graduate programs, your statement of purpose will primarily discuss how past experiences have led you to pursue the program. In these cases, you may also need to provide evidence that you are “a good fit” for the program in question—that is, why this particular program is different from or better than other similar programs.
You can re-use a great Statement of Purpose for multiple applications!
Because so much emphasis is placed on letters of recommendation when it comes time for universities to decide whether or not you get accepted into their graduate programs, you must write a Great Statement of Purpose for your professors/employers/supervisors to write glowing recommendations about you.
What Is a Statement of Purpose
As the name implies, a statement of purpose is a statement of your purpose in applying to a graduate program. It should explain exactly what you’re seeking, why you’re interested and how it aligns with your career goals.
Essentially, it’s a letter to the admissions committee that tells them why you are applying to their program and why you are a good fit. Your writing needs to be succinct so that admissions counsellors can quickly read through many purpose statements each day.
How Long a Statement of Purpose Should Be
The application requirements of your school might determine the length of your statement of purpose. Some universities ask for a specific number of words, while others leave it up to you. For example, you might be asked to write a statement of purpose that is 200–800 words long. Generally, though, most purpose statements are one page, single-spaced and written in 12-point font.
Statement of Purpose Format
Now let’s talk about the statement of purpose format so you can write well.
Your statement of purpose should be 3-4 paragraphs, each being roughly 1-2 pages long, single-spaced with a blank line between paragraphs. Use a 12 pt Font (Times New Roman is good) and have 1-inch margins on all sides. You don’t want to go over 1,000 words and not less than 500 words.
How to Start a Statement of Purpose
When writing the statement of purpose, start with a hook: put the reader in the middle of an action or a conversation. Avoid cliches like the plague. Don’t overthink it; write from your heart and be yourself. And even though you should avoid cliches, don’t be afraid to use familiar themes if they work for your situation.
In writing your statement of purpose, please keep it simple: do not make it too complicated; otherwise, your reader might get bored easily and lose interest in reading your essay as well as in you. Keep sentences short and only use difficult words when appropriate—there is no need to show off how smart you are!
Be creative. Remember that thousands of other applicants have just as much information on their resumes as you, so why should they choose YOU? Make yourself memorable! Write about something different from what everyone else is writing about; give them a reason to pick up YOUR application instead of someone else’s!
Statement of Purpose Format – What Do I Write?
- Write an introduction to your essay that grabs the reader’s attention. You want them to read on, so you have a very short time to make a good impression. In about 100 words, write your first paragraph by explaining who you are and where you come from.
- Write paragraphs 2-4 by explaining why you are interested in the program, your career goals, and how this particular program fits into those goals. You want to convince the admissions committee that this program is right for you and that you can do well in it by describing specific credentials and interests. Show some personality as well—after all, they’re interested in learning more about who YOU are!
- Write a conclusion paragraph where you sum up everything while at the same time showing enthusiasm for being part of the school’s academic community if admitted.
Statement of Purpose Format – What Do I Write?
The SOP is your chance to tell the school exactly why you belong in their program. There is no one-size-fits-all format, but it usually works best to go from past to present, including your motivations for pursuing your chosen field of study in the future.
If you are changing careers, this is also an excellent opportunity to discuss how your previous experience makes you a unique candidate.
Questions the Admissions Committee Expects You to Answer
The admissions committee will be looking for the following information in your statement of purpose:
- why did you choose their program,
- why did you choose their university,
- what skills and experiences make you a good fit for the program,
- how the program will prepare you for your career (and your life),
- what strengths and weaknesses do you bring to the table, and
- What are your future goals?
Statement of Purpose Writing Strategies
A big part of writing a statement of purpose is standing out from the crowd. While plenty of rules and guidance are available, there’s no magic formula that will instantly help you write a great statement. You have to find your unique voice and approach if you want to impress admissions committees. Here are a few strategies that can aid you in crafting an original statement of purpose:
1. Avoid Copying Templates
The first thing you should note is that many people will read your statement of purpose. This means that admissions officers have probably read hundreds, if not thousands, of personal statements before yours. As a result, they can tell if you’re using a template or if your statement is genuine and honest.
You might think that using a template will make your life easier because it gives you an outline of what to write about. But in reality, templates lack structure and originality. They may give the impression that you don’t care enough about this opportunity to spend time writing a tailored personal statement for the specific program you’re applying to. Admissions officers want to know why you are interested in their department or school specifically and how it would benefit your career goals.
If you’re looking at a template, it won’t be specific to your experience as an applicant. It may contain some helpful suggestions for what to include, but make sure you aren’t just copying big chunks of text from one statement into another. Your goal is to stand out by writing something that reflects your personality and objectives for applying.
2. Story Is King
Start your SoP with an anecdote. A great way to hook the reader is with a compelling story, and a personal one is an ideal option. This can be anything: an interesting fact about you, an explanation of why you’re applying to this school, or a time when an experience led you to find your passion. You want something brief and engaging that will serve as a hook for the rest of your story. Whatever it is, it must be unique!
As soon as you have that great anecdote, use it to segue into why attending this program at this school will help you achieve the goals you described earlier in your essay. The more personal and specific the connection between your story and where/how/why you want to study at this school, the better.
A well-written personal narrative helps demonstrate the uniqueness of your application. Come across as someone who went through similar experiences as everyone else but wants more options than they have now. You’ll be one in a sea of applicants with similar goals seeking similar results without particular distinguishing features or characteristics. A compelling story shows that you have the skills and experience required for admittance into graduate school programs and that this path is right for *you*.
3. Be Specific When Talking About Your Achievements
Be specific and concise when you talk about the achievements relevant to your application. It’s tempting to prove your worth by listing all the awards you won in all group projects and activities. But that strategy only causes admissions officers to ask, “What did this person do? What was their contribution?”
To avoid ambiguity, it’s best if you can quantify your achievements using figures. For example, instead of writing:
“Our team achieved a 95% customer satisfaction rate after the launch of our new product design for XYZ Company,”
consider including numbers:
“In line with my manager’s expectations, I delivered 4 standout designs that generated over $5 million in sales for XYZ Company. The launch of our new product design helped us achieve a 95% customer satisfaction rate. As a result, XYZ Company increased its earnings by nearly 30%.”
4. Don’t Write the Same Statement of Purpose for Multiple Schools
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Tailor your statement of purpose to each school. This may seem like a chore, but you must express interest in the specific program you’re applying to since your statement will be read by members of that department. You can explain what drew you to their program, mention any faculty whose work interests you, or point out courses or extracurricular activities that align with your interests.
What’s more, if you have research experience, mention anything relevant that came out of your research (a paper you wrote or presented at a conference) and how it relates to what appeals to you about the program’s curriculum. If there is something unique about the school (like its location next to an art museum), include why this will benefit you academically and personally.
Also, include information about your career goals, ideally with concrete examples of how this particular program will help prepare for them – for example, by teaching specific skills or introducing students to key industry contacts in the field.
5. Use a Formal but Conversational Tone
Your statement of purpose is like a first impression. You want to be an expert in your field, so you need to use formal language. But you also want to come across as a human being, so it’s important to use a conversational tone.
Most colleges agree that formal language doesn’t have any room for jargon, clichés, or overuse of the passive voice. Write with confidence and authority in your tone, but avoid repeating too much information.
Statement of Purpose Example
Here’s an example of a strong statement of purpose:
“I have decided to apply to the Ph.D. program in electrical engineering at Stanford University because I wish to become a university professor and research new areas in communications. The diversity in types of research conducted by Stanford’s professors is especially attractive, as it allows me to approach my interest—communications—from different perspectives. In addition, the collaborative efforts of faculty members on interdisciplinary projects will allow me to expand my knowledge outside of communications and contribute to other fields as well.
This decision is also influenced by my desire to attend a school whose alumni are highly successful and hold positions in industry that are directly related to my field. As an engineer from Mexico eager to begin a career designing antennas for cellphones, attending Stanford would provide me with the necessary connections for finding a job at top companies such as Qualcomm or Intel upon graduation.
My past academic experience has been focused on understanding how electronic devices respond when placed into electromagnetic environments, such as how signals from one device can interfere with those from another device operating nearby. This was the topic I worked on during my undergraduate studies and the area where I have published papers already; however, I am now eager to shift toward studying how environmental factors affect performance characteristics at higher frequencies (e.g., 60 GHz) than what has previously been studied (e.g., 30 GHz). This area will be crucial for designing upcoming 5th generation (5G) wireless systems that must be able to operate under harsher conditions than previous generation systems faced due primarily to their use of millimeter-wave frequencies (i.e., 28 GHz–100 GHz). As part of this shift toward higher frequencies, I am also interested in learning more about antenna design and fabrication techniques that are used at these frequencies since most antennas used today were designed for frequencies below 6 GHz and cannot operate efficiently above 30 GHz without modifications that increase their cost or complexity.”
Checklist for a Statement of Purpose
A convincing Statement of Purpose is your best chance to make a strong impression on the school you’re applying to, but it can be hard to know what they’re looking for. That’s where we come in!
This checklist will help you get the most out of your Statement of Purpose:
- Know the audience. It’s easy to write lots of words but harder to know that those words are saying something compelling. Make sure that what you have written makes sense and is interesting!
- The length isn’t too long. It’s usually better if your statement is around 500 words because readers don’t have time to read a long essay once they start reading applications from other people. If it’s more than 1000 words, cut it by half (or more). Also, think about how much attention you want each section to get in terms of its importance for getting accepted into college—does one topic matter more than another?
- Your grammar is flawless. Grammar errors can distract from even great content, so remove any typos or awkward phrasings that make sentences unclear or hard to read; this will help when it comes time for an admissions officer reading through thousands upon thousands of applications from other applicants like yourself who might not be as careful with their writing skills (and thus less likely to get accepted).
- Avoid cliches like “I always dreamed of becoming a doctor”;
- Use descriptive language and storytelling;
- Name your accomplishments in the field: speeches, official publications, awards, etc.;
- Get feedback from at least three sources before submitting your work (a family member, a friend, and a professor).
- Describe your academic experience in this field;
- Introduce yourself;
- Explain why you’ve chosen this specific school;
- Say which classes or activities you look forward to in your studies;
- Make sure your hook is strong, and your conclusion leaves a final impression;
- Name your academic and extracurricular achievements;
- Name a problem would you like to address in the world, if any;
- Give background on why you’re involved in this field;
- Show your passion for the field of study;
- Answer the questions that the admission committee would like to know, as discussed in this article;
- Mention specific reasons for applying to this college like location, subjects, professors, etc.;
Final thoughts on the statement of purpose
The statement of purpose is the first thing that an admissions committee will read, and it’s a huge part of whether or not you get accepted into the school you’re applying to. You can follow all of the other tips above, but make sure your writing is honest and polished. And if you need help with this or any other university application, feel free to contact one of our experts!
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you write a good statement of purpose?
- Start early and spend enough time brainstorming and introspection ideas and life events.
- Focus more on passion, self-motivation, potential, and competence.
- Use an active voice not a passive voice for your SOP.
- Keep your tone formal but conversational.
- Write persuasively.
How do you start a statement of purpose?
- Discuss your long-term goal and connect it with your idea of pursuing the course you are applying to
- Present your understanding of the chosen field and write how you want to contribute to that field
- Explain your background in 2-3 lines and connect it with your future goals
- Write about an anecdote that helped you realise your professional interest in the chosen field
Is there a format for a statement of purpose?
Unless otherwise specified, a standard statement of purpose is ideally two pages long, uses a maximum of 12 point font and is double spaced in normal margins. Hence, depending on the font type, a standard SOP would be about 800 to 1000 words. There should be no use of colourful text or images anywhere.
How long is a statement of purpose?
A statement of purpose should be between 500 and 1,000 words
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